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Ninja Gaiden Black
Review By: Cameron Morris
Developer: Team Ninja
Publisher: Tecmo
Genre: Action
ESRB: Mature
# Of Players: 1
Online Play: No
Accessories: Memory Unit, In-game Dolby Digital, HDTV 480p support, Xbox Live Scoreboards
Buy Now: Buy Ninja Gaiden Black at Amazon.com!

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When the first current-gen iteration of Ninja Gaiden came out on the Xbox in 2004, it set itself apart from other games in the action genre with mind-blowing graphics, lightning-fast gameplay, and a difficulty that quickly became a legend in its own time. Ninja Gaiden Black is a re-release of the game, enhanced with content previously downloadable over Xbox Live and a few more additions thrown in. Let me get this out of the way right now: this is not an entirely new game. If you played the original, don’t come into this expecting a proper sequel, or you will be disappointed. But, with that said…

Ninja Gaiden Black has a simple concept: you are a ninja named Ryu Hayabusa, initially out to receive training under your uncle Murai and eventually out to avenge your entire clan. How is a ninja going to do this? Do you sneak around through massive buildings, stealthily killing specific targets with surgical precision, never seen and never noticed? Do you use your special skills to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies, leaving them quivering heaps on the ground screaming for their mothers? Hell no.

Ninja Gaiden Black is about action, the most violent and visceral action ever put onto a console, and trying to describe it borders on futile. You will use something like a dozen weapons, destructive ninja magic, and acrobatic skills and speed to make other ninjas weep, all blended together to form a literal whirlwind of death and violence. A typical instance might involve Ryu running across a wall, launching himself off of it at lightning speed to slash his enemies across their torsos with his sword, jumping along a crowd from shoulder-to-shoulder, raining a hail of razor-sharp shurikens from mid-air, throwing one chump thirty feet and breaking his back against a wall, and pulling out his massive twin-bladed flail before things get really hairy. All of this can occur in the space of about two seconds, and it’s probably the least exciting scenario in the game I can imagine.

Ninja Gaiden Black

That’s really the heart and soul of the game right there: the story, the environments, the art direction, all of it is basically used to facilitate the best action ever put on a console. Every battle plays out like something out of the world’s best kung fu movie, with enemies growing more intimidating and impressive as the game goes on, and nearly every level culminating in boss battles that are both breathtaking in design and utterly bone-crushing in difficulty. There is nothing quite like going up against the world’s biggest samurai-on-a-horse, thinking you’re going to make him eat his own spear, and then being beaten so soundly and so quickly that you almost literally drop your controller in shock. The first time, anyway. Then you pick up your controller again, driven forward by the desire to see what lays beyond: if this guy is the boss of the second level, what will the third be like? And the fourth? And the fifth?

The controls for Ninja Gaiden Black are ultra-responsive and intuitive, which is good because the game would be utterly broken if they weren’t. Ryu responds to your commands exactly as you could expect him to, as quickly as you can think to input them. There’s no limit to how well you can fight with him: if you fail at anything in the game, be it the combat or the platforming, it’s due to a lack of skill on your part and not any fault of the game’s. Everything about how the game controls starts to feel so right after the first half-hour that you don’t really have to think about your actions anymore, and when that happens you know the designers did something right.

Let’s talk about the graphics. Ninja Gaiden absolutely amazed people back when it first came out, being called probably the most beautiful game on the market at the time, and while that’s no longer the case for Ninja Gaiden Black, what with the advent of the next generation of systems and over eighteen months of current-gen games in the interim, the game’s visuals are still spectacular and a testament to what the Xbox is actually capable of. Character and enemy models all look great, textures are sharp and clear, the lighting in this game is much improved over the previous game, and all of it comes packaged with a rock-solid framerate that almost rarely does anything so much as hiccup. Again, this is a good thing, because a choppy framerate in this game would be the difference between life and death. That’s not to say that the graphics in Ninja Gaiden Black are perfect: every once in a great while (I can remember two instances in the entire game) the game will actually act like the Xbox can’t support it and you will experience slow-down. Not a drop in framerate like you might have come to expect in other games, an honest-to-God batch of slowdown, dropping the speed of the game down to less than half of what it actually is. It’s rare, and it never lasts long, but I couldn’t help noticing it and it irked me.

This would be a good time to bring up the fact that the game has the best FMVs in the industry. No, do not argue; they are tops. Nobody does full motion video like Team Ninja does, and each one of them is an absolute blast to watch, chock-full of action and various forms of eye candy.

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Posted: 2006-04-06 17:18:53 PST